What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in
the world. Originating in China more than 2,000 years ago, acupuncture began to
become better known in the United States in 1971, when New York Times reporter
James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain
The term acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving stimulation
of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. American practices
of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and
other countries. The acupuncture technique that has been most studied
scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles
that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
How widely is acupuncture used?
In the past two decades, acupuncture has grown in popularity in the United
States. The report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held
at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997 stated that acupuncture is
being "widely" practiced--by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists,
and other practitioners--for relief or prevention of pain and for various other
health conditions. According to the 2002
National Health Interview Survey--the largest and most comprehensive survey of
complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use by American
adults to date--an estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults have used acupuncture,
and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous
What does acupuncture feel like?
Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin. People experience
acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain as the needles are
inserted. Some people are energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed.
It is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture
How might acupuncture work?
Acupuncture is one of the key components of the system of
traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). In the TCM system of medicine, the body
is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and
yang. Yin represents the cold, slow, or passive principle, while yang represents
the hot, excited, or active principle. Among the major assumptions in TCM are
that health is achieved by maintaining the body in a "balanced state" and that
disease is due to an internal imbalance of yin and yang. This imbalance leads to
blockage in the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways known
as meridians. It is believed that there are 12 main
meridians and 8 secondary meridians and that there are more than 2,000
acupuncture points on the human body that connect with them.
Preclinical studies have documented acupuncture's
effects, but they have not been able to fully explain how acupuncture works
within the framework of the Western system of medicine that is commonly
practiced in the United States. It is proposed
that acupuncture produces its effects through regulating the nervous system,
thus aiding the activity of pain-killing biochemicals such as endorphins and
immune system cells at specific sites in the body. In addition, studies have
shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry by changing the release of
neurotransmitters and neurohormones and, thus, affecting the parts of the
central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such
as immune reactions and processes that regulate a person's blood pressure, blood
flow, and body temperature.
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Dr. Geoffrey Hann.
Facts: Acupuncture. National
Institutes of Health (NIH), 9000
Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20892 USA. Web: